LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Ben Shapiro event tomorrow will test USC’s commitment to diverse views and ideas

More than 1,500 Young Americans for Freedom chapters at colleges and universities nationwide have applied for the opportunity to host conservative author and commentator Ben Shapiro on his college campus tour. USC was one of the six schools selected, and it was announced in July that Shapiro was booked to speak at Bovard Auditorium on Thursday.

However, over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed an increased awareness of Thursday’s event. There has been backlash leading to protests and demonstrations organized by Undergraduate Student Government’s cultural assemblies, planned counter-events by left-leaning political student groups, an endless supply of #SoundTheAlarm Instagram posts with faulty information and several op-eds in the Daily Trojan calling Shapiro “racist,” a “bigot” and a “white supremacist.”

The last critique is especially amusing, considering that a 2016 analysis conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that Shapiro was the most frequent target of anti-Semitic attacks from white supremacists and the alt-right. And so, on the eve of Shapiro’s visit to campus, I see it as timely and necessary to provide an alternate perspective to Shapiro’s evening lecture at Bovard Auditorium, one much different to the largely one-sided point of view that some USC students have been exposed to.

On Thursday, I fully intend on walking into Bovard Auditorium, taking a seat and attending Shapiro’s lecture. Attending does not denote a full agreement with everything that Shapiro stands for or believes in. Rather, my planned attendance of YAF’s event on Thursday represents an endorsement for the much-needed intellectual diversity — diversity of thoughts and ideas — that often goes unnoticed and disregarded by students and college campuses nationwide.

I am in my senior year at USC, and this is the first time I can remember a high-profile conservative speaking on campus. That, to me, is unacceptable, shameful and goes against everything an institution of higher education stands for. Colleges and universities are supposed spaces meant to provoke, challenge and, yes, even offend. Challenging and uncomfortable discourse paves the way for students to  discover and solidify their personal political views. If universities leave students’ beliefs unchallenged during four of the most impressionable years of their life, they are doing them a disservice by allowing them to be intellectually complacent.

In the past few years alone, the campus has had many outstanding speaker events from well-regarded liberals such as Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Barbara Boxer and just last week, Jose Antonio Vargas. Nearly all were supported by USG and faced little to no resistance or disruption from those who disagreed with these speakers. I can only hope that our fellow Trojans will give the same respect to Shapiro, who is exercising his constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech when he visits our campus tomorrow.

I hope that they extend that respect to the students and guests attending YAF’s event and look forward to the protests and demonstrations planned by the Black Student Assembly, Latinx Student Assembly, the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment and other motivated student activists looking to exercise their First Amendment right to assemble in expressing their disagreement with Shapiro. I commend YAF for accommodating protestors and ensuring that they will have a space on campus to gather and demonstrate.

Hate speech is not simply speech that you disagree with. Shapiro is not a “purveyor of hate speech,” as a viral post falsely pointed out. Trying to shut down someone’s speech with which you disagree is fascism. I’m supportive of Shapiro’s dissenters and the act of free assembly and protest. I encourage them to challenge him on Thursday: Call him out, put his feet to the fire and make him answer for his perceived controversial views. After all, college is  about confronting of opposing viewpoints. More speech, and differing speech, leads to the truth rising to the top. Shapiro seems to agree, as he is known for always insisting on having those that disagree with him to ask questions first during the Q&A portions of his events. So my anti-Shapiro friends, protest — but protest and challenge. Attend and participate.

In conclusion, putting political viewpoints aside, we are all Trojans. Let’s coexist peacefully and respectfully Thursday evening. For those attending and protesting, let’s be proud of the interactions we have with one another and keep them free of insults, innuendos, vulgarity and personal attacks. Those in and near Bovard Thursday will show if USC is able to handle the existence of opposing ideas in a compact space. Will we be known for being peaceful, courteous and civil? Or will we be seen as disruptors, insolent and unable to hear thoughts with which we disagree with? Whichever pathway we choose Thursday as student leaders on campus, and as Trojans, will have ramifications in the days, weeks, months and perhaps years to come. My only wish is that we choose the former.

I look forward to seeing you Thursday. Let’s have a discussion.

Max Geschwind, ‘19

USG Senator